A few days ago, I posted (and then deleted) a post on six things not to say to an author. I meant it to be funny and clever, and as sometime happens on social media, the humour fell flat. But since so many people responded seriously, I thought I’d expand on the points I was attempting to make in a more thoughtful manner.
The first was: Don’t tell an author you’re thinking of writing a book.
I have heard that complaint repeatedly from my author pals and have experienced it myself all too often. We’ll be at a dinner party or some kind of work function or reception. Someone finds out we’ve written a book. The conversation usually goes like this: “Oh, I’m thinking of writing a book too. Maybe you can give me some tips on getting it published.”
For some reason, for me at least, these conversations always involve complete strangers who have never heard of me or my book . (In fact, in one case, after asking me dozens of questions about how to get published, the would-be author told me she never reads mysteries; she doesn’t like them. )
I usually ask what kind of book it is they plan to write. Often they have a very vague idea. Sometimes it’s about their family history, or something related to their work. (One wouldn’t tell me; she was concerned I might steal her idea.)
Now this kind of conversation happens to me at least two or three times a week. When it does, I answer the questions, and make suggestions, and try to be polite about it, because I don’t think the people doing it realize how romanticized their view of writing is.
“I think my book will do really well,” one woman said to me. “People really like books about [topic X]. It should sell thousands of copies.”
I tried to explain that I didn’t think X actually was a topic that would sell very well unless she had some unique way of making it stand out in a crowded market. I also pointed out that a bestseller in Canada is 5,000 books. I suggested she might consider putting it out as an e-book instead. She immediately asked if I would co-author it. (That is the fifth time, I think, in the last couple of months that I’ve had a virtual stranger ask me to help them write their book.)
The romantic notion is, “well if you’ve written a book, then so can I, and mine will be really good.” All that may be absolutely true. But it fails to take into account that there’s no guarantee of success, that it’s no easy matter to find an agent or a publisher, and more importantly, that you really have to be willing to invest the thousands of hours of time required to do it.
For most authors, it takes years to write a manuscript and get it polished enough to send out to agents and publishers. Once they do, most endure countless rejections and smackdowns before they find an agent Some never get picked up. Many of those that do get published discover that their books don’t do all that well, even if they were really good books that reviewers loved.
There are lots of people who want information about how to get published: that’s why I started this blog. (I would have loved to pick someone’s brain when my manuscript was done on how to get it published, too.)
But there’s a difference between being asked to help someone who actually has a draft manuscript and someone who is simply thinking about writing. One is still daydreaming; the other is at least doing the work.